The way he describes it, you can tell he’s visualized it his whole life. When Chris Maragos, NFL safety and special teams regular, lined up on the sideline before the start of Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014 as a member of the Seattle Seahawks, he entered an exclusive group only a few hundred men on earth can claim. He talks about the moment as if it’s a richly colored photograph, a series of seconds frozen in time and framed neatly in his mind.
It’s the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl, and for a kid from Racine, Wisconsin — one of the most football-centric places in the world — this was the summit.
“Here I am, some kid who didn’t get recruited out of high school, a guy who was undrafted coming out of college and literally offers nothing athletically, and I am stepping on the line to get ready to go on the kickoff of the Super Bowl,” Maragos said in a recent interview. “All these light bulbs are flashing and I’m just looking up at the sky and saying, ‘Lord, look at what you’ve done with something so minute and so small. And now you’ve put me on the largest stage in the world.’”
A few hours later, Maragos got to hold up the Lombardi Trophy, which is given annually to the NFL’s Super Bowl winning team. Four years after that, in February of this year, Maragos’s new team, the Philadelphia Eagles, took the field for another Super Bowl. In this Polaroid moment, Maragos is again lined up on the sideline, but he doesn’t run out on the field, and he’s in street clothes. The Eagles would win the game, with backup quarterback and fellow Christian Nick Foles leading the team to a victory over the New England Patriots and giving Philadelphia its first Super Bowl championship in franchise history.
But the reason Maragos couldn’t play dated back to a moment he received, what he calls, the worst news of his life.
The best worst news
Nearly four months before Super Bowl LII, Maragos got the injury report every professional athlete dreads: “Ligament Tear, Out For Season.” In Maragos’ case, it was the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee, and he would need surgery to repair it. He won’t put on a uniform until August, during the exhibition games before the 2018 football season.
Season-ending knee surgery is difficult for any athlete, but it is potentially devastating for players like Maragos. He’s a career special teams player on his third NFL roster. He’s been released more than once. If an athlete endures an injury like that at the wrong time, it could mean the end of his career. Fortunately, Maragos had signed a three-year contract extension near the end of his 2016 season with the Eagles, and since he was elected a team captain before the 2017 season, he should have a roster spot if healthy this summer.
But those spots are never guaranteed in professional sports, and at the moment he was told about impending surgery, Maragos had no idea how his body would respond to the invasive procedure. He got approximately 15 minutes to process all the possible outcomes before his phone rang. His wife, Serah, had just given birth to his third child and first daughter, Cambria. He still chuckles about the wild swing of emotions.
“It was interesting,” he told Southern Seminary Magazine in a phone interview. “At one moment, I got the worst news of my life — up to that point, anyway. I’ve never had an injury as severe as this. But then the next moment, I got the best news of my life.”
Family is essential to Maragos. Despite his busy schedule, time with his wife and three children is sacrosanct.
“For me, my family is my number one priority. Everything else — my job, my hobbies — is secondary,” he said. “If I’m not pouring into my family, how could I think about giving of my time anywhere else?”
Maragos grew up in an excellent Christian home. His parents were faithful spiritual leaders, but it took a little while for the faith of his parents to bear fruit in Maragos’s life. He said he carried a lot of “head knowledge” around as a teenager, but a “hard heart.”
“Jesus was kind of like a rabbit foot to me — when I needed him, I tried to tap into him. But when things were going good, I did my own thing.”
The ministry of a couple friends at Maragos’s church and the steady influence of his parents eventually helped break down his resistance to belief, and at age 15 Maragos saw a rapid change both in his soul and his actions. A gifted athlete, Maragos realized his football ability could be harnessed to “bring glory to God” and not just himself.
That athletic ability, while noteworthy, was never enough to make Maragos an NFL-level football player on its own merit. He was never the biggest or best player on any team. He knew he had to work hard for anything he got.
“All these light bulbs are flashing and I’m just looking up at the sky and saying, ‘Lord, look at what you’ve done with something so minute and so small.’”
That discipline carried him to Western Michigan University, then to the University of Wisconsin, where as a transfer he played a variety of roles, from safety to special teams. He even scored a touchdown as the holder on the field goal unit on a trick play at fabled Ohio Stadium, where the Ohio State Buckeyes play.
By his senior season, Maragos had watched several teammates play in the NFL and comparing his own ability to theirs, he began to think there was a chance he could make it too. The next spring, he signed as an undrafted free agent with the San Francisco 49ers, where he appeared in three games before getting cut in the offseason. He signed onto the Seahawks practice squad and earned his way to the active roster, where he remained throughout his tenure with the team.
‘Right where he wants me’
That constant instability is common for undrafted free agents in the NFL. It’s that uncertainty that makes injuries so scary for these professional athletes. They are always one bad injury report away from looking for a new line of work.
“I wish I could give you the ‘God is good! Everything is great’ answer,” Maragos said. “He is good, but it’s been difficult. The injury hurt, the surgery and the recovery hurts. It’s very painful. I’ve had a lot of difficult days. But God has carried me through that and met me in those dark places.”
The injury has given Maragos the opportunity to talk to the media about his faith and confidence in God’s plan for him, an opportunity he relishes. Skim any article about Maragos and his Christianity is impossible to miss. He told the USA Today in November: “God is so gracious that he gives us so many things to get through the difficulties. Most importantly, he gives us his Word, which guides us and gives us the truth and the substance of our being.”
Maragos is far from the only believer on the Eagles roster. Players Carson Wentz, Trey Burton, Zach Ertz, Jordan Hicks, and Foles are a few of those who participate in Bible studies three times a week and accountability groups the night before games in the team hotel. After his career is over, Maragos hopes to help NFL athletes manage their money by working with a wealth management firm, in addition to speaking, teaching — and possibly seminary training.
Maragos’s brother, Troy, is a pastor at First Baptist Church in Naples, Florida, where Chris met Jim Stitzinger, director of the Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization, and President R. Albert Mohler Jr. for dinner and learned about Southern Seminary. Afterward, he decided to become a donor to the school.
“The more I got to know them and the more I learned about Southern Seminary, I began to see God’s hand on [the institution]. Great things are happening,” he said. “All of our money is God’s. When you look at investing, we want to invest whatever we have wisely. When you evaluate schools that are gospel-centered, are equipping and training the next generation of ambassadors for Christ to bring God’s Word to people who need it, you see Southern does that.”
As for Maragos’ NFL career, nothing is promised. Other athletes might consider a knee injury that cost them the chance to play in a Super Bowl to be an all-time low, but he now calls it a “blessing.” He recites 2 Corinthians 5:15 word-for-word over the phone (“And Christ died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves”) and considers his future.
“So often, we want to hijack our careers and see our lives go the way we want them to,” he says. “But my life isn’t my own anymore, I’m here to bring honor and glory to Christ.
“God has me right where he wants me. I know this didn’t pass through his hands without him knowing about it first. Nothing is out of his control. I know this is exactly where he wants me and how he wants to grow and refine me during this time, and for that, I consider it joy.”
Andrew J.W. Smith is a writer for Southern Seminary.